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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On November 5, 2023

    By Karan Thapar

    One of the most beautiful sights in a democracy – and I use that adjective deliberately – is tens or hundreds of thousands peacefully protesting against what they perceive as intolerable injustice. It doesn’t matter if it’s been perpetrated by your own government or one at the other end of the world. What matters is that it’s aroused a collective moral conscience, it’s stirred the souls of human beings, indeed, the very depth of their existence. This is why their response is a vindication of humanity. It raises humans above other than animals.


    This thought crossed my mind when I saw hundreds of thousands on the streets of London, marching against Israel’s treatment of 2.3 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza. The numbers may have differed, but there were similar rallies in Paris, Berlin and, of course, the cities of America.


    In fact, what happened in the United States was particularly poignant. Jewish Voices for Peace staged protests in Congress as well as Grand Central Station. It was testament to the power of conscience. On this occasion it was greater than the hold of a shared religion.


    Now, don’t get me wrong. What Hamas did on the 7th of October was barbaric and savage, utterly condemnable and completely unforgivable. But a month later that’s only half the truth. In response, Israel has killed 9,200 people and injured over 22,000. Forty per cent of the dead are children. It’s cut off electricity and water, fuel and food and now, after weeks of vicious airstrikes, a second-stage ground invasion is underway.


    I would imagine what the protestors are asking is simple and straightforward: Even if punishment and revenge was justified, hasn’t this gone too far? And hasn’t it gone on for too long?


    Israel told everyone in northern Gaza to move south for their safety but started to bomb places like Khan Yunis and Rafah where they sought shelter. The Al Jazeera correspondent’s family was killed in the Nuseirat refugee camp.


    Doctors at the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, with a capacity of 600 but now crammed with 20,000 hiding from the bombs, say all they can see is rubble and sewage. Reports speak of amputations without anaesthesia on the floor of hospital corridors. Al Quds hospital, in the same city, was told to evacuate patients to avoid being directly hit by airstrikes. But where do you take babies in incubators and the critically ill on ventilators?


    A Palestinian voice on the BBC conveyed the indescribable trauma of Gaza with these heartrending words: “People are not asking where can we go to be safe. They’re asking where do we want to be when we die.”


    The truth is the conscience of Israel is also stirred by this horror. It might not find it easy to express itself. Not after what Hamas has done. But, equally, it will not be comfortable suppressing itself. So, slowly but steadily, it’s finding utterance.


    Haaretz is one of Israel’s great papers. In a leader on the 8th, the day after the Hamas attack, it said: “The disaster that befell Israel … is the clear responsibility of one person: Benjamin Netanyahu”. It accused him of “(ignoring) the existence and rights of Palestinians”. On the 9th it warned against “campaigns of vengeance and commission of war crimes”.  On the 19th, the paper’s internationally acclaimed columnist, Gideon Levy, in an op-ed titled ‘Enough!’ began with the following sentence: “This bloodbath must be stopped immediately … there have to be limits to the devastation.”


    Whatever else you may think of Israel, Haaretz is undeniable proof it’s a democracy for its Jewish citizens. In India, in similar circumstances, such editorials and op-eds would invite charges of terrorism and sedition. So even in Israel the beauty of protests is still visible.


    But will these protests change anything? Can they stop worse atrocities? I don’t know. Probably not. But, nonetheless, they matter. Simply because they’re happening. They are voices that cannot be silenced and, therefore, our conscience will continue to speak.

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